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Toys

Dissecting the Roomba 131

WannaGeek writes "Jake Luck and John Ioannidis have dissected a Roomba for your educational pleasure. Just the basics, but important information on how to kill a Roomba if you get trapped in a sci-fi horror flick with one threatening to suck up your breakfast."
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Dissecting the Roomba

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  • by Dark Lord Seth ( 584963 ) on Friday January 17, 2003 @11:22PM (#5106223) Journal

    So when do we finally get the first Roomba/Segway crossover or the Type R|oomba?

  • by hiryuu ( 125210 ) on Friday January 17, 2003 @11:23PM (#5106227)

    ...like I was, what the hell a Roomba was:

    Roomba Homepage [roombavac.com].

    • by Rojo^ ( 78973 ) on Friday January 17, 2003 @11:36PM (#5106263) Homepage Journal
      The cool part about the Roombas is, once you have dissected it and put it back together, you have a handy vacuum cleaner to pick up all the left over screws. . .

      "Honey, I don't think you were supposed to have all that left over."

      "Nonsense! The company included those for demonstration. Watch."

      *clack clack clack fzzzt!*

      Umm, maybe it wouldn't be such a bad idea to bookmark the Roomba anatomy site.
    • Thanks.

      But it's a mere copy. Nothing sucks like an Electrolux [electrolux.se]!
    • roomba is a Latin American version of rock and roll. I am wondering how one gets trapped inside one in a sci-fi horror movie, though ;)
    • I was actually kind of interested in buying one of these, til I caught this in the FAQ:

      Can Roomba's music/ sound be changed or disabled?

      Unfortunately, Roomba's music/ sound cannot be modified or disconnected.


      I couldn't find a mention of what this music actually is like, but it must be pretty annoying if they mention that you can't change it in their FAQ.
      • You own a pair of wire cutters?

        You can disable sound
        • Now what would be really cool is if someone figures out a way to reprogram the chip with the sounds or music on it.

          It might be funny to have your roomba spit out movie quotes or something...

          bump into a wall? - Worf from STNG says "Raise Shields"

          Finished the programmed cleaning cycle? - The Terminator says "I'll be back"

          anyhow - either that or have it stream your playlist wirelessly. Though since the vac runs at 80 dB, I doubt you're going to get a very good sound.

          Another amusing suggestion from the FAQ:
          ....you can always go into another room, or leave the house entirely for complete quiet while Roomba cleans...

          Granted, the point is that you can leave the vac to run unattended, but still... "if you want quiet, leave your house" is not really helpful advice, IMHO.
      • My wife and I recently received a Roomba for Christmas, and I'm not sure why anyone would feel the need to change the sounds it makes. For the most part, the roomba is a quiet device. Much quieter than the average vaccuum, for instance. As far as electronic noise, it has some various (non-obnoxious) beep sequences programmed in to let you know if it gets too full, or gets stuck somewhere in your house. I think perhaps the person writing that question just wanted to be able to customize the roomba to his own tastes.

        I have to admit, I was very skeptical of the device at first, but it seems to do quite well. It manages to get pretty good coverage and has pulled far more cat hair out of my carpets than I thought possible.

        The only drawback is the relatively long charging time and relatively short batterly life (12hr/1.5hr), but I guess it just uses a lot of power.
  • It seems to be some sort of robot vacuum cleaner. Detailas at http://roombavac.com/ [roombavac.com].

    I do like the name of the company manufacturing it: iRobot. I bet Asimov would get a kick out of it, were he still alive.

    Now back to selling some science fiction first editions...

    Lame Excuse Books: http://www.io.com/~lawrence/lame.html
  • by Amsterdam Vallon ( 639622 ) <amsterdamvallon2003@yahoo.com> on Friday January 17, 2003 @11:29PM (#5106243) Homepage
    And a bunch of lonely geeks are reading about getting inside something that's known for sucking really well.
    • I, for one, am interested in finding out if it can be changed from suck to blow.

      =)
      • After many years of development and goal redefinement, it will be released as MegaMaid.
      • I, for one, am interested in finding out if it can be changed from suck to blow.

        And this masterpiece is already invented, O Great One. It is called Microsoft Vacuum Cleaner.

        • And this masterpiece is already invented, O Great One. It is called Microsoft Vacuum Cleaner.

          LOL! Reminds me of Wayne's World:

          As you can see, it sucks, as it cuts.


          It certainly does suck!
        • It is called Microsoft Vacuum Cleaner.

          "The day Microsoft makes something that doesn't suck, is the day they start making vacuum cleaners."

          It may not really suck, but I'm sure it really blows.
    • "And a bunch of lonely geeks are reading about getting inside something that's known for sucking really well. "

      Slashdot sure does cover a lot of things that suck. "Save Farscape!"

      (heh, just being funny, don't kill me.)

  • by Arcaeris ( 311424 ) on Friday January 17, 2003 @11:30PM (#5106247)
    "important information on how to kill a Roomba"

    I thought we already acquired this vital information circa 1985? You just jump in the air and stomp on it. Or spit fireballs. Or get a starm... ohhhh Roomba.

    Well, I guess those three techniques still work.
  • by FosterSJC ( 466265 ) on Friday January 17, 2003 @11:32PM (#5106251)
    Thankfully we are already safe from the Bug-Bladdered Beast of Trall. Simply, close your eyes. Since, it thinks that if you can't see it, it can't see you.
  • Whew..... (Score:5, Funny)

    by cybermace5 ( 446439 ) <g.ryan@macetech.com> on Friday January 17, 2003 @11:33PM (#5106257) Homepage Journal
    important information on how to kill a Roomba if you get trapped in a sci-fi horror flick with one threatening to suck up your breakfast.

    I'll remember that, next time that happens. Though, if it's a typical sci-fi/horror flick, my breakfast would be trying to eat me anyway.

    The best way to kill one, though, would be to make a little trail of dirt that it follows around a corner, where you are waiting with a sledgehammer....
  • Bad /.ing (Score:3, Interesting)

    by core plexus ( 599119 ) on Friday January 17, 2003 @11:34PM (#5106259) Homepage
    Here's the first page, anyway:

    Roomba Internals : Nosce Your Bot : 2003-01-10 by Jake Luck & John Ioannidis Internal Components

    With the top cover removed, we now have access to the main motherboard and various sensors and control cables.

    Here is a closer look of the internal components. Note the interesting 4 pin port (labled in green) that was not used. Perhaps it is a diagnostic/programming interface?

    To hot wire the robot to start without the top panel controls, we examined its interface circuitry. [That's all I got]

    Man Gets 70mpg in Homemade Car-Made from a Mainframe Computer [xnewswire.com]

  • A hammer... (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 17, 2003 @11:37PM (#5106267)
    ...probably works even better.
  • by NanoGator ( 522640 ) on Friday January 17, 2003 @11:38PM (#5106268) Homepage Journal
    "Just the basics, but important information on how to kill a Roomba if you get trapped in a sci-fi horror flick with one threatening to suck up your breakfast."

    Pff, I didn't even bother reading the article. Everybody knows that to kill a Roomba you have to eat a mushroom, grow really big, then jump on it.
  • Anyone remember MST3k when Gypsy kept passing out? :-)

    Also, I didn't see the particular episode but, the accordian/vacuum seemed pretty cool to me.
  • So... (Score:5, Funny)

    by NeuroManson ( 214835 ) on Friday January 17, 2003 @11:43PM (#5106277) Homepage
    What happens when you overclock a Roomb- Whoops! There goes the cat!
  • by imag0 ( 605684 ) on Friday January 17, 2003 @11:44PM (#5106279) Homepage
    Must be serendipity when you have two Slashdot articles, one on dissecting a poor, hapless appliance and one right under it covering when the puny humans pay for their transgressions [slashdot.org]
  • Nice... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by houseofmore ( 313324 ) on Friday January 17, 2003 @11:48PM (#5106285) Homepage
    The roomba itself is a fine idea, but I think in my case, it would have to be accompanied with a larger model that is able to clear away the pop cans, pizza boxes, coffee cups and odd lost household pet -- petrol powered I would expect.
  • I have a roomba, the site is slashdotted already, and my left over mod points have expired so I can't pound the lame-os who have posted already.

    Must be time to fire up the tivo and watch west wing instead of reading /.

    -dB

  • by euxneks ( 516538 ) on Friday January 17, 2003 @11:58PM (#5106299)
    "I choose YOU Roomba-bot!"

    Yuck. I feel dirty for the association.
  • by wlnjr ( 188564 ) on Friday January 17, 2003 @11:59PM (#5106302)
    The other location of the same material:

    http://www.tla.org/roomba
  • Roomba experience (Score:5, Informative)

    by DeathB ( 10047 ) <adampNO@SPAMece.cmu.edu> on Saturday January 18, 2003 @12:01AM (#5106307) Homepage
    We have (or maybe I should say had) a Roomba in our house. I believe it was a beta model. It did a much better job than any of us expected making it around college student rooms, around in a bathroom, and even our porch. The only real complaint we had with its operations was the small size of it's container for storing whatever it vacumed.

    It had quite a few nifty features. The led on it slowly changed from green, to yellow, to red as the battery drained. It'd be nice to see that on a notebook computer! Being a house full of computer science majors, quite a bit of time was spent figuring out what its algorithm was for room coverage. While we didn't get it all quite worked out, it seemed to hit all of the room.

    Unfortunatly, it met a fairly quick end. After about two days, we found it running in a circle. Opening it up, we discovered that one of the wheel motors had actually siezed. We still haven't been able to find the appropriate motor on mouser or digikey. It doesn't matter too much as the final version should be on its way to us soon enough.
    • > We still haven't been able to find the appropriate motor on mouser or digikey.

      Perhaps you just need some majick-fixy-motor-juice aka WD-40?

      Cheers
      Stor
    • quite a bit of time was spent figuring out what its algorithm was for room coverage
      hrm, i read a bit about the roomba a while back, seems that there really is not algorithm, its just kind of random, going back and forth--eventually it just covers the whole room, thats why you have to choose small medium or large.

      It saves a signifigant amount in the production of the device, and i am assuming that that is what the roomba developers were aiming at, when you dont have to include alot of processing power

      • It does have an algorithm, albeit a simple one. It has 3 modes: spiral, cut across the room, and follow the wall (which is pretty smart by itself). To decide which of the 3 to use it has 3 inputs: the bumper (which is actually two inputs), the IR rangefinder on top, and a timer.
        The general pattern is to spiral until it hits something and then follow that something for an [apparently] arbitrary amount of time, then cut across the room. If it hits something else soon then it follows that, if it doesnt then it spirals once it gets far away from everything. That is of course the very simple version, I am sure that if you observed it for a few days you could glean a few more quirks and details.
        • Oh, I forgot the IR reciever which counts as a "bump" against the virtual wall, and the little spring-loaded pressure sensor on the bottom that counts as a "bump" against an imaginary wall when it is about to fall off a ledge.
  • The bumper has its own IR sensor and emitter for wall following. I don't think the virtual wall sensor has an associated emitter.
    -russ
  • Cool. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Suppafly ( 179830 ) <slashdot@nOSPam.suppafly.net> on Saturday January 18, 2003 @12:20AM (#5106355)
    These things look cool, I've never heard of them before though.. maybe they haven't made it to the midwest yet. I can't imagine they are too horribly complex, having played with lego robots and some of the java and basic stamp kits, I'd imagine it'd take a run of the mill cs or engineering student less than a week to get the basics designed for this and maybe a little longer to get it to the level of the commercial product.
    • Minesweepers (Score:2, Interesting)

      by joelparker ( 586428 )
      Actually the heuristics come from much larger and more complex robots, built for the U.S. military as minesweepers (link to review [technologyreview.com]). That's why the Roomba cleans in widening circles, rather than making a internal map of the room or tracing the walls.
    • I'd imagine it'd take a run of the mill cs or engineering student less than a week to get the basics designed for this and maybe a little longer to get it to the level of the commercial product.

      It'd take a run-of-the-mill student a week to get their Java environment set up, and you know it.
    • You can get them online directly [irobot.com].

      A friend has told me of a cat that likes to ride on one, but I haven't seen pictures yet.

      My question is if, as the article says, the thing can use ir to follow walls, why does it get its nose stuck under the cabinets in my kitchen that are just the wrong height? (it will eventually usually unstick itself, but it could be a little smarter I think).

      Still, it works way better than I thought it would.

  • 12 year olds rejoice (Score:5, Interesting)

    by pummer ( 637413 ) <spamNO@SPAMpumm.org> on Saturday January 18, 2003 @12:22AM (#5106361) Homepage Journal
    how long will it be until some brainy kid takes the robotics out of this, hooks it up with an electric lawn mower, and DOMINATES the lawn-mowing business in his neighborhood? Wait, that's a good idea

    *runs off to get roomba*
  • by jdkane ( 588293 ) on Saturday January 18, 2003 @12:35AM (#5106388)
    A Roomba is great until it gets stuck behind your computer desk or wrapped up in something. Might as well get a puppy.
  • by joelparker ( 586428 ) <joel@school.net> on Saturday January 18, 2003 @12:46AM (#5106415) Homepage
    One of the inventors is from the MIT AI Lab. Check out Rodney Brooks [mit.edu] for his ideas on heuristic AI and projects like humanoid robots Cog and Kismet.

    His ideas, as I understand them, are to build increasingly complex robots using subsumption architecture, i.e. simple behaviors like movement come first, then more complex behaviors are added in layers. His approach to AI is radically different approach than traditional symbolic processing AI.

    His research raises all kinds of interesting questions about evolution, emergent behavior, and how to pass the Turing test.

  • by pummer ( 637413 )
    "Like Tivo, Roomba is one of those marvelous technologies that makes you wonder how you ever lived without one."

    But, I'm living without BOTH of them now. What am I, rich? (and yes i do have a job, to all the asshats who would have posted "LOL!!!!!1111!! LMFAO!!!!1111!!one! u dont h4v3 a j0b!!!1!11111"
  • MIRROR (Score:2, Informative)

    by pummer ( 637413 )
    here is a mirror: mirror [tla.org]
    here is the first page (images are linked):

    Disassembly Instruction
    Like Tivo, Roomba is one of those marvelous technologies that makes you wonder how you ever lived without one. We are not affiliated with iRobot; however, if you don't own one yet, we recommend you get one now. One of the most frequent questions that I get from people is, "does it really clean?". Yes, and it does with grace. We praise their engineers for their cleverness and ingenuity that shall become self evident through the following pages.

    It is a good idea to clean your Roomba before you start. After some trial and error we came up with the following procedure.

    1: Turn off the robot.
    2: Remove the Particle Bin, Vacuum Filter Door and Battery.
    3: Remove the main Brush roller mechanism.
    4: Remove the following screws.
    image [tla.org]
    5: Turn the robot over as one piece.
    6: Slide off the top cover to reveal the control cable.
    7: Disconnect the control cable from the motherboard and remove the top cover.

    next page [tla.org]
  • Whatever (Score:3, Insightful)

    by big_groo ( 237634 ) <groovis.gmail@com> on Saturday January 18, 2003 @01:20AM (#5106490) Homepage
    A maid is still cheaper, and (s)he does windows.

    You can keep your robot.

    .
  • I love my Roomba (Score:3, Informative)

    by Pr0sper0 ( 642588 ) on Saturday January 18, 2003 @02:29AM (#5106632)
    I've just finally gotten used to having a robot running around the house. While it may seem to be superfluous gadget, let me tell ya it's darn handy. A couple nights back my girlfriend and I set it loose on the apartment while we cooked dinner. By the time we were done preparing dinner we had fairly well cleaned floor with nearly no effort on our part. The best part was as we made a mess on the floor cooking, it cleaned up around us!

    The only big failings are the small dirt container and the volume. It's pretty darn loud. Howevr, it does an awesome job with pet hair.
  • I use to work with a fellow that was working on something similar to the Roomba(I wonder if Roomba is the end result?). I saw it in action and it ran on Linux! This was several years ago. I've seen the commercials late at night recently and wondered if he was one of the persons behind Roomba. In the commerical, it is mentioned that the people/person behind Roomba attended to MIT, which he did attend(got his degree in EE).

    cesman
  • by Anonymous Coward
    We saw one at Brookstone. It was repeatedly vacuuming a tabletop, stopping each time it hit the edge, backing off, doing a 1/8 turn, then going forward again. My wife wanted one. She changed her mind when we looked more closely at the wooden tabletop and saw the scratch marks from the wheels. Not what we want on our wood floors.

    Also, what happens if you have a room with a coffee table or something in the center, won't there be some "shadow" areas that it won't cover? So you'd have to keep an eye on it to decide when it's repeating itself, and know where to put it to get the missed areas.

    Neat idea but it's got a ways to go before it's more than a curiosity.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      >Neat idea but it's got a ways to go before it's more than a curiosity.

      I know, let's make comments about how it performs based on how we *think* it might perform.

      I don't have wood floors, so I can't comment about scratching (though looking at what contacts the floor, it seems unlikely), but the Roomba is definitely way more than a curiosity.

      The key is that it's *not* 100% perfect and efficient, but it turns out that it *doesn't need to be*. Let it run around for a long time, and it does a surprisingly good job of getting the vast majority of dust and dirt. Sure, it can miss small areas next to topologically interesting structures, but these are the same kind of areas you'd have to get separately with the sucking vaccuum attachment.

      That said, I'd love to see one with a larger dust bin. :)
    • You might have seen a beta version with plastic wheels, which I heard about once. The production model has rubber wheels, which leave no scratches on any of my wooden floors. The only place I would worry about it on wood would be on the edge of solid wood stairs because the little pressure wheel on the front that keeps it from falling could scratch the corner of the wood where it slid down then back up.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    ... and I haven't vacuum'd myself any of my floor for about 4 month.

    It's THAT good. Beware tho, if you're using it on a VERY dirty floor, the dirt bin is kinda small. But if you use it regulary, then it's no problemo.
  • We have a Roomba. It worked at first. Now it just shuts itself off a lot for no apparent reason. Also, as we originally received it, the container to hold the dirt wasn't held in properly so it would fall out, promptly dumping everything back on the floor. That problem is solved, but we still have the shut off problem. And it doesn't seem to be doing a very good job of actually cleaning (our floors are wood laminate, not carpet). The wheels seem to get out of alignment pretty easily. Right now we're trying to get our unit exchanged for one that actually works. Good to hear that people are having success with their Roombas, so the product really does work.

    And yes, it is irritatingly loud.
    • That sucks!

      We've got a roomba, and it's been nothing but good. It works as good as something it's size, with it's physical limitations possibly could, in my opinion. We've got two cats and it's a real boon.

      Now hopefully the next version plugs itself when it's done and does stairs. . .It'd be nice if it could learn your rooms, too. . .But for a first gen product at $200, it's as good as it possibly could be, I think.

      • We've got a roomba, and it's been nothing but good. It works as good as something it's size, with it's physical limitations possibly could, in my opinion. We've got two cats and it's a real boon.

        I agree. We have wood laminate floors and cats and the Roomba does an amazingly good job. The difference between good engineers and great engineers is the thoroughness of their use case analysis, and the iRobot engineers did an excellent job of UCA on the Roomba. It cleans well, doesn't fall down stairs, and usually is smart enough to find its way out of "lobster trap" situations. My only complaints are minor: I wish it had a little bit more wheel drive power to get up over thicker area rugs, and that its "wall wiper" brush was a little stouter.

        My wife loves the Roomba as much as I love the TiVo.

  • I imagine this thing won't be popular until some geek figures out a way make it suck him off.
  • Lego encouraged the extensive reverse-engineering [crynwr.com] and third-party applications [oreilly.com] for their Mindstorms series of toy robots. Sony wasn't at all happy to see Linux on a PS2.

    I hope iRobot follows Lego's lead when it comes to modding the Roomba.
  • Robots.net [robots.net] and Scientifinc American [sciam.com] have some discussion on the differences between the Roomba and the Electrolux Trilobite, which has been selling in Europe from since last summer.

    Living with a Trilo roaming our household, its sonar crackling now and then, when it looks for a power-up at its dock, is much like having a pet :)

    J
  • Come to think of it, my cats would love this (it's got to be more exciting than the blank TV screen they love so much). Don't know if the roomba would love them though. I hope it responds well to pouncing and gnawing.

I never cheated an honest man, only rascals. They wanted something for nothing. I gave them nothing for something. -- Joseph "Yellow Kid" Weil

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